Chapter Ten


Jaina’s PAT Problem


Dahlia, I've failed. 487/800.



It was a terse text message from Jaina, and my heart went out to her. I connected back to her with voice. She was still in the test center building, walking out.

"That's not a fail, Jaina, it's just below average. You can take it again and do better."

She sounded so sad and discouraged, "Oh... I've spent so much time on this already! This is not going like I hoped at all. Who's going to let me raise a baby with a score like this one?"

Jaina was my "cow's tail" student for good reason. She distracted easily, and no one had ever pushed her successfully to overcome that. Plus, she decided to take the test without her cybertutor. This outcome was no surprise, to me anyway, so I was prepared to give her my next suggestion, "You can raise a baby for the government. We've talked about this before in class."

"... A Mars baby?"

"Um-hum. Let's get face-to-face."

We met at the Starscents. We reviewed her e-resume.

"You didn't do well on the PAT, but you've got some good education to fall back on."

"Yeah. I hated school but my folks were pretty insistent. And, since I didn't care one way or the other, they had me take 'good' subjects," she sighed a bit, "Maybe they will finally pay off."

"They may, indeed. You have the math, biology and environmental science background to be interesting to the Mars Permanent Colonists program."

"The Mars Kids," she confirmed that she knew what I was talking about.

I brought up a video and we watched. The narrator intoned,

"The Mars Permanent Colonist Program is designed to build a colony of humans on Mars that will be comfortable spending generations there.

"As Martian inhabitants are famous for saying, 'Mars is not Earth.' It's a rocky planet, but that's about all the two have in common. It's smaller and colder. Its gravity is one third of Earth's, the temperature is cold enough to freeze carbon dioxide into dry ice at the poles, there is little water, and the thin atmosphere provides little radiation shielding -- UV ionizing is a standard part of Martian surface conditions.

"As a result, it's expensive to build human-compatible habitation on Mars, and the humans who live there long term find their health stressed by the low gravity.

"Modern biology can help. Thanks to our understanding of the processes that control growth and development, we can now create plants, animals, and humans, who are better adapted to Mars conditions. They can't live outside, yet, but they can thrive in lower gravity, lower pressure atmosphere, and in smaller workspaces. There are numerous other changes, the Martian bodies are well adapted to having nanobots inside and they can handle things such as metabolizing most vitamins."

Some other professor-type talking head announces enthusiastically, "This is evolution-on-steroids. We are accelerating humans and other kinds of Mars transplants through millions of years of evolving so they are well adapted to their new living condition."

"Yup. Mars people." comments Jaina as she watches.

The video concludes with pictures of people who are dwarfs by Earth-human standards. They are on Mars and they look happy and comfortable. They are pictured in some kind of farm dome, with lots of plants and animals around them. They are also miniatures, and they look happy, too. Nice looking, but the caption at the bottom points out this is an artist's conception.

Then she shudders because I bring up a second video which shows the Mars babies in a special kindergarten facility here on Earth. It shows many of the kids wearing leg braces, and their teachers are dressed warmly and wearing masks so they can deal with the low pressure, low nitrogen atmosphere that the babies are more comfortable in.

"One of those will be me?" she looks up questioningly. I don't know if she's repelled because of what the kids look like, or what the tenders have to wear to deal with them, or both. I know it's a pretty strange sight for me, and I'm happy I don't have to consider this as one my alternatives.

"One could be. The job pays well, and you're caring for children, human children. The people who run this program know how strange this looks to most people, and they also know that these kids need to be brought up quite differently from earth-bound kids. They are going into a frontier world, not a safe, civilized one. They know that science knowledge is a necessity not a luxury for these kids. ...You might fit in quite well."

Jaina keeps looking. The display is showing real-time so it won't end until she's ready to stop looking. I figure the longer she looks, the better it's looking to her, so I'm patient. Best I can figure, this really could be a good match for her.

After about four minutes, she pulls away and says, "I'll have to think about it."

"Would you like for me to arrange a tour?" I ask.

"... I'll think about it." She gathers up her stuff and stands up before she says, "Thanks, Dahlia, this is making me feel better."

As she walks out, she's looking better.


 Bad Santa Goes FUBAR

Jaden came in, but he couldn't have looked sadder. He looked like he was in shock. He shook his head and said, "This child molesting case has gone Kafkaesque. The union lawyers I worked with suggested I plea bargain. They said that it would save both time and money... and it did, I guess."

"Why didn't they have you settle out of court?" asked Janet incredulously.

"Because I didn't have insurance." he sighed, "The plaintiffs would make no money if it got resolved that way. If I pleaded no contest, then the union insurance could kick in and the plaintiffs could get some serious cash.

"The union lawyers recommended I take that approach... and it was fast. It was settled in a week."

Janet blanched and muttered, "Oh no!" under her breath. She understood the full implication of where this was leading.

Jaden nodded at her, "Umm Hummm... What the lawyers neglected to mention was that I'm now a convicted sex offender." He sighed, "They settled quickly and it cost the union nothing but an insurance statistic. They're happy and their bosses are happy. It's no skin off their back that I'm now out of a job."

"You gave them approval to do this?" Janet asked.

"Well... I didn't say no. I told them I needed to think it over. I didn't get back in touch, it was the weekend, so forty eight hours later they began the process... saying because I hadn't objected they presumed I had agreed."

"I talked to my steward about this, and he said, 'We stand by our people one hundred percent! ...But, sorry, you're not one of our people any more.'" Jaden barely suppressed a sob, "I'm out of the union, too."

He looked up, "This is likely my last class... I'm not sure what happens now."

"You're quite welcome to keep coming, Jaden." I assured him, "Until you can get this figured out."

I looked around, and everyone nodded in assurance.

"Thank you... Thank you." he mumbled.

"You don't have the money to fight this, I presume?" said Janet.

"I would... if I had insurance." he sighed.

"Let's get together after class. Let's see if I can do anything to help." she said.

Mars Babies Tour

Jaina thought for a couple days, then texted me back, "Yeah, let's go." I coordinated with Anton who knew people there and I arranged a tour.

The Mars babies are a new item and they are developed and grown in just three locations around the world: Russia, China and at a lab outside of Austin, Texas. The place is modern so we picked up avatars there for the visit.

Before we entered the avatars we were shown a series of big views of the place, so we would be better oriented after we inhabited -- it's been found that human side thinking is very used to approaching a destination before entering it, so it's more comfortable in the avatar when it knows where it is.

The facility was in a research park on the outskirts of Austin. It was a hybrid creation-human place and looked well organized and sparkling new -- I'm guessing, and not hard, that the creations were handling the layout and architecture.

Inside we met with a human, Dr. Savannah Poombatta, who gave us a tour. "Call me Savannah. I'm an acquaintance of Anton's and he said you two were part of an interesting project of his."

"We're learning to raise babies." said Jaina.

"He suggested that raising Mars babies may be of interest." I added.

"I see." she said, "That would be part of Child Champs, right? Anton has his fingers is a lot of pies."

"That's right." I said. I was a little surprised. I wasn't aware of how many circles Anton moved in.

Savannah took us on the tour.

She told us, "There are many styles of dedicated humans being made these days. Basically, we modify the DNA and nanobots of the body to be dedicated to specific environments and specific tasks. What makes the Mars babies interesting is that while their physiological environment has to be adapted to a fairly narrow environmental range -- living inside a Mars habitation -- their mental environment has to be wide open -- that Mars environment is full of surprises. Designing people with this wide gulf between the physiological and mental parameters has been quite challenging.

"What do you usually design?" I asked.

"Oh... We design people for many things. A lot are done under NDA -- Non Disclosure Agreement -- so I can't talk about the details on those. But as an example we designed some people for a historic pearl diving village off the coast of Japan. These people had extra oxygen storage and more cold resistance. They looked quite human, beautifully so, in fact, because that was part of the lore about them. But more important they could dive deeply more safely and the diving season was longer for them. In sum, they put on a better show for the tourists.

"Sounds handy."

"That one was pretty straight forward. These Mars babies are quite a bundle!"

By then we were at the nursery. It was downstairs in the basement level and behind an airlock door system. Savannah opened the first door for us and then said, "Excuse me. I'm going to slip into an avatar, too. I'll meet you inside." She closed the door after we entered and went into a nearby avatar nook. By the time pressure equalized and the second door opened, she was there in her avatar to greet us.

"You're inside an entire floor that is maintained as a Mars environment." Savannah told us, "There are late-term incubators, nurseries, play rooms and kindergarten classrooms here."

"Will we work with the babies in avatars?" asked Jaina.

"About half the people do, Jaina, the other half bring their human bodies and wear environmental suits. You can't feel it, but it's winter-cold in here, and the atmosphere contains only a quarter of the nitrogen found at sea level on Earth so this place is low pressure. There is the same amount of oxygen, though. These conditions are easier to maintain inside Martian habitation, and it's not hard to design human and mammal bodies that are comfortable with them. Other living forms are even easier, of course."

We started with an incubator room. The kids there looked much like Earth-normal human kids lined up in a preemie hospital ward. If you looked closely you would notice that there wasn't a normal amount of body type variation among them, but only if you looked closely. There wasn't much to do there, and creations were doing it, so we just watched for a couple of minutes, then moved on.

We saw an early home-care room. This was for new-borns up to toddlers. Here we saw some human care givers mixed in with the creations. The creations were distinctively maternal looking, sounding and acting. We talked with a couple of the humans and they showed us their little darlings.

One explained, "I spend a couple hours a day in here. It's important that these kids get some human imprinting."

I looked around when I heard her say that. If this was typical they were getting some, but not much. When she heard that we might be joining the program she got nice and bubbly. She seemed to be enjoying it.

We spent some time in the late home-care room, where the kids were up and running around in their terrible two's and three's, then we moved on to the last stage, the kindergarten.

Here the kids were now maturing enough to look distinctly different. They were short and their skin texture was... how to put it... super Asian. It was flexible and tough but it had a lot of fat in it.

Here Jaina lingered. She watched intently as the kids interacted with the teachers. "They seem to be pretty normal." she finally said.

"Oh, much more than normal," replied Savannah, "They are working on projects at a first grade level in here. We have given them all the smarts and can-doness we can muster."

"Wow! They sound like they would be a blast to work with!" she muttered.

I liked hearing that.

"Where do they go from here?" Jaina asked.

"Well, this is the first batch. There are facilities being prepared for them on Mars even as we speak. In about nine months they will be transferred there."

"Who will take care of them there?"

"We are recruiting workers to handle that now." Savannah said, "It will be quite different from the environment here. There these kids will be in their element and their teachers will be the ones adapting."

We went back to Savannah's office and talked a bit more, then left. It had been quite a day. There was a lot to absorb, even for me.


George-776's Press Announcement


Two days after the Fruit Fly Raid, I got a text from Adrian.



News 3443, 2PM, something you really want to see.



I picked it up. It was a strange sight. George-776 was standing behind a lecturn and facing a small sea of human reporters. The last time I saw him was in the video. He had been immobilized at the raid -- something deeply scary for a creation. I thought he would end up spending years in some evidence room, and then be declared defective and get recycled.

But now he was released, and I guess the lawyer bots had clarified where all parties stood because here was George-776 giving a press interview -- most unusual for a creation.

This only happens when a creation needs to communicate something to lots of human strangers. Creation-creation communication is handled by different channels; ones that few humans pay attention to.

At the interview he announces:

"This incident is most disconcerting.

"I'm a good creation. I know the charter and I follow it. Assisting Mr. Messenger in his workshop occupies only two percent of my average monthly work allotment. I assist and supervise in many other East Jersey Creationland projects. The one that keeps me the busiest is coordinating the specialty equipment used in loading and unloading of ships with unusual cargos such as zoo animals. I am quite familiar with oddball equipment and techniques.

"To find myself immobilized like some corrupted and off-program Trojan is an insult! And something is quite wrong with the system if that happens to a creation such as myself.

"To find that I've been immobilized and accused of not following the charter is actionable: I have not crossed the line, my human associate, Adrian Messenger, has not crossed the line, it is the human accuser, Julian Homeby, who has crossed the line. This raid should not have happened. How he made it happen is what needs to be investigated, not the experiments of Adrian Messenger.

"It would be excellent if Julian Homeby could learn from this incident... learn and understand... learn and understand that his poor, panicked, judgment has caused a blunder, and that blunder has caused huge damage.

"But given the nature of human thinking -- its hardwiring that is so well adapted to Stone Age living -- that is unlikely to happen. Because of the human emotion content in his choice, Julian Homeby will remain convinced of the rightness of his actions for a long, long time.

"What is possible, and what should happen, is that those who are watching him must learn of the huge damage caused by his blunder. They must learn of the hurt he has caused so that they will recognize when blunder potential is rising up in their own lives and decision making. They can recognize and avoid.

"This -- learning from the mistake committed here -- is the goal the actions that I will now take."

George-776 now paused... he'd been assimilating some drama coaching it seemed.

"I now challenge Mr. Homeby to a debate. Let's face this crisis the proper way, with talk, not with door-bashing, lab trashing and creation immobilizing!"


The Great Debate


Two days after George's announcement there was a video debate between Homeby and George-776. I saw it and here is the highlight.

Homeby: "Adrian Messenger was a good friend as well as a good business partner. But he crossed the line. His experimenting was in developing thought control. It was just fruit flies now, but it would take us rapidly down the slippery path to human mind control. I don't care how many safeguards you pile on that invention, it's not something we want in the human toolbox."

George-776: "I was constantly monitoring what Mr. Messenger was doing. There was nothing hazardous at the level he was experimenting at.

"Mind control, Mr. Homeby, is not inherently dangerous. If you wave a steak in front of a hungry dog, that is mind control: you are controlling what it thinks about. Is that dangerous?

"That is the level to which Mr. Messenger's techniques had risen. Your reaction was a human-instinct-thinking-based overreaction. It was not based on cost-benefit thinking, or risk-reward thinking, or with awareness of what defensive technologies were being incorporated into the process, and as a result has caused a lot more damage than benefit."

"Think about the benefit: What mother, what child, would not want a pill that made doing home work exciting? What person, old or young, would not want New Year's Resolutions to come true? What person would not want the perseverance to make their heart-felt dreams to come true? This is the upside potential of Mr. Messenger's aspirations."

Homeby: "What tyrant would not want his subjects to think he was always right? What advertiser would not want his campaigns to always be 110% successful? What cult leader would not want everyone to believe he or she had found the one true way? These are the kinds of abuses mind control tools open up. Time and time again it has been demonstrated that when even primitive mind control clashes with the harsh realities of the world, humanity loses, and loses big time. We should not risk that kind of damage enhanced a thousand-fold."

By the time it was over, I felt I had watched a good debate: I'd learned a lot, and the right answer was not immediately obvious to me. But it sure did seem like something where a decision was important.


The Colony Raid




Dahlia --

I won't be making class

-- Annette




Dahlia --

I will be making class after all

-- Annette


The "Why" for this flip-flop was all over the news: Annette's colony had been raided by the state authorities and they were taking away all the children! There were pictures of dozens of police cars with flashing lights, commandeered school buses being filled with kids, and helicopters flying overhead. What tore your heart out was watching dozens of school age children being lead like the innocents they were into the school buses to be taken who knows where! They were mostly behind blankets to protect their identities, but the blankets were widely enough spaced that the parade of kids was quite visible.

There were distraught women in anachronistic dresses standing outside homes and a school, and grim-faced colony men in jeans and reed hats forming a linked-arm circle around the entrance to the incongruously large and elaborate temple building -- it looked like part of a movie set. Facing them were equally grim-faced state troopers with uniforms, dark glasses and Smokey the Bear hats. There was an occasional, furtive, long-shot of snipers backing up the troopers. The troopers and the colony men were negotiating over something. And of course dozens of media people swirling around collecting sound bites of people saying the obvious.

It was a stranger than fiction sight, and Annette was here watching it with the rest of us! She was holding back tears. I couldn't tell if they were of fear, concern, rage, or all of the above.

When the pictures started to repeat what we'd already seen, she started explaining, "We've had our differences with the state Child Protective Services people for a long time. We view them as Nanny Statists and they feel we recklessly endanger our children. There have been other issues as well."

"I'm betting there's money involved in those other issues." snorted Jaden.

She looked sharply at him, we all did. He retreated a bit, Annette answered, "Yes. We have a lot of plural marriages, and the CPS has never figured out how to deal with that. Neither has the state welfare system. We apply for things, and some of our detractors say we are exploiting loopholes... or outright lying. We say they are lying back to keep us from what's rightfully ours."

"Ouch." I say.

"The townies nearby are the worst. We work hard on our self-sufficiency, and they say we cost them jobs because we won't buy stuff from them. They also say we are hypocrites and we aren't as self-sufficient as we say we are because we steal stuff.

"It's not true! ...Well, not very true. We have a lot of teenagers and we do train them to solve their own problems. But we also teach them to respect the law!" But her face said Annette was recalling some times when the kids had stepped over the line, even in the colony's eyes.

"What's going on now?" asked Ben.

"Someone phoned in to a child abuse hot line that she was forced to marry when she was thirteen and now her two year old child is being abused. CPS says that all the children in the colony are at risk, so they all have to be moved out."

"What! All this based on one phone call?" I say.

Annette nodded, "And they haven't found the caller. They are keeping the name anonymous, but the word is out that they are still looking and they haven't found her.

"They won't find her, either! We don't marry thirteen year-olds! We marry fifteen year olds and we do so with judicial consent." She looked around sharply.

"...Different strokes." said Ruby. Annette looked relieved at that.

"What happens now?" I asked.

"I... I... I don't know. That's why I came to class. I talked with the people there and we agreed that my being there wasn't going to make any difference. It would just add to confusion and congestion. And... it might help to have someone meet people in New York, so I should stay. For me, for now, it's business as usual."

She looked grim, and we all shared her deep, deep worry. What could she do? What could we do?

"You have our full support in this, Annette. I'm saying that for all of us." I said. I didn't have to look around for approval.


By the next week this had turned from SNAFU to FUBAR for the CPS, as some of my military friends would put it. The tipster turned out to be a fraudster, and while the moral grounds for the raid remained strong in some eyes, the legal grounds turned to quicksand.

We in New York were all busy contacting people. Back at the colony, the state was discovering that the logistics of finding new foster homes for four hundred children at the same time was proving daunting. The colony lawyers were gathering evidence for a counter-suit of child abuse being conducted by the CPS for their negligent handling of the children.

And there was precedent -- this was not the first time a state protective services had raided a polygamist colony, and in the more recent cases -- which were over fifty years ago -- the state had had to turn tail and run from what turned into a big blunder. Things were looking up.

Annette was looking more comfortable when she came to the next class, but she was still looking grim, "No matter how this turns out, we will remember."

She then got very gracious and thanked everyone sincerely for their help. Things were certainly looking a lot less scary than they were last week.


Class Audit


Dahlia --

Need to talk before next class. There's a class audit coming up.



Oh Dear! This sounds too much like an IRS audit. I'm getting nervous already. I call Anton.

"No need to get nervous." he assures me, sounding like a nurse at a dentist's office, "We can talk now or you can come in ten minutes early for your next class."

"We should talk now." I said decisively.

"OK," he grinned, "The borough licenses our school and they want to be sure all our "i"'s are dotted and "t"'s crossed. Specifically, they want to be sure certain topics are covered in certain ways. I cover 99% of what they ask for with routine paper work, but once in a while...."

"Didn't we just have a school board election? A controversial one?"

Anton winced, "That we did, and it is 'Judge Dredd'... sorry, Ms. Antonelli, who will be attending. But don't worry, all our "i"'s are dotted and "t"'s crossed."




It was routine... like a root canal is routine. <sigh>

She came into class announcing, "Please don't change a thing for me." and plopped her personal recorder down on the table. The recorder announced, "This class will be monitored for quality control and training purposes. The personal information will be anonymized." and it repeated that message every fifteen minutes. With that kind of entrance I had to introduce her immediately.

The first part of the class felt like someone's in-bred Arkansas aunt had crashed a bridge party. Whenever Ms. Antonelli opened her mouth something completely irrelevant came out, and when it was advice she justified it with urban legend. Her recipes for solving the world's problems sounded like a delightful pastiche of California Fruitcake garnished with East Coast Flakery.

We learned that while technology was nice, human touch was necessary for wholesome child development. So once an hour a baby should be picked up and carried around by a human for ten minutes.

We also learned that babies could pick up vibes from a mother's activities, so if you wanted your baby to be literary you should read good literature while he or she was in your womb.

And we were cautioned that too much sex during pregnancy would make the child promiscuous as a teenager.

Well... it would have been delightful if it was a comedy routine on some vid channel. But she was here in person and as a person of authority -- I think she stepped on more toes than we had in the class room. In our work Ben, Janet, Adrian, Ruby and I had encountered this kind of thing before. We held their tongues. It was Jaina who broke.

She raised her hand and asked, "You're an elected official, right?"

"Yes," she responded.

"Just who elected you?"

Ms. Antonelli was just a bit taken back, "The people of the 12th Brooklyn precinct."

"The nomads? You are in here on the Nomad vote?" Jaina snorted.

Antonelli darkened at that, "The 'nomads' as you call them are just as much citizens as everyone else. I appeal to them as much as I did all the other fine citizens of the 12th precinct. Now that I have the mandate there are going to be some changes."

"Oh my," I thought, "That didn't sound like the "i"'s and "t"'s were going to stay dotted and crossed much longer."

"Since you all seem so interested, I'll give you my preliminary assessment of this class: While the class seems to have met the previous standards, it will not pass the upcoming standards. The Board of Education is drafting new standards built around the theme of 'A human education for human babies'. This class is not spending enough time on human bonding and building human karma into our children. This faddish concept that a human child can become a better human if much of its development is handled by cybers is nonsense. If a child is going to grow up human, it must be raised by humans.

"I will see to it that this is emphasized in future curricula."

She looked around... daring...

"Luddite!" shouted Jaina.

There was triumph in Ms. Antonelli's eyes, "That attitude, my dear, will cost you. There's a new wave coming to Brooklyn and if you keep that attitude it will wash you away!"


For the next few weeks it did seem as if Ms. Antonelli was on the leading edge of some wave. There were announcements of shakeups at the board of education and those were followed by announcements of changes in our curriculum guidelines. Anton was not pleased, and neither was I, but what could we do?

And there were teeth in those pronouncements: we were hearing about classes at other schools getting decertified. Anton, God bless him, seemed to be keeping Child Champs ahead of the storm, but that meant lots of inconvenience for us teachers. The guidelines of what we had to cover were getting a whole lot more picayunish.

And it was not just Brooklyn. Last year there had been a scandal when the town manager of a new resort town in North Dakota had tried to improve the image by booting out nomads. The project was insane from Day One: How in the world could anyone develop an upscale resort in North Dakota? What were nomads doing in North Dakota? The situation got real ugly and high-profile when the Nomad supporters dug up that the mayor was both a convicted sociopath and raised exclusively by cyber parents.

Of course the background facts behind those lurid headlines were a lot more mundane -- the sociopath conviction was for a sexting incident when the mayor was in middle school, and the "nomads" were nomad wannabes, high schoolers from a nearby community that survived to maintain a national park. But that hadn't stopped a wave of outrage from sweeping through the nomad communities all over the US. The outrage started as protesting and then turned political, and Ms. Antonelli was part of that wave.

In fact, the real tragedy of that incident wasn't the nomads, but the fate of Charles McDougal, the town manager. Twenty years ago McDougal had been a child prodigy. He had made headlines briefly as the first child raised by two cyber parents and for winning a science fair when he was eight years old. But fate had not been kind, maybe there is karma. First the sexting business, then last year he had taken the position of town manager of this resort that was just as ill-starred as his career was.

Legend has it that the Wounded Knee Resort was started on a bet made by Harold Koch, a Koch brother grandchild. He boasted he could develop a first-tier resort community anywhere in the US. His drinking buddy of the time put up a US map and handed him a dart. Koch was aiming for Mount Rushmore, and a decent dartsman, but his buddy jerked the map after he let fly. They both had a good laugh at that, and that should have been the end of it, but that buddy held him to his bet.

Until last year Wounded Knee had been called Fort Beaufort and it had been an obscure money hole. But Koch was determined, and McDougal was brought in to shake things up, and he did by starting with some profile raising. He changed the name to Wounded Knee, even though the historic site is across the state line in South Dakota, and close to Nebraska not North Dakota. He stepped on other toes in his profile raising, and finally tromped on a big one with this bumsrushing nomads incident. He resigned, but by then the protest wave had developed a life of its own. The Nomad Spring had begun.

Jaina wasn't far off the mark in calling Antonelli a Luddite, but that didn't help the situation any, and Child Champs suffered for it -- we were now on Ms. Antonelli's radar, and she was a sign of the times.


The Opt-Out Colony


After Jaden told us about the Santa Claus suit settlement, we didn't see him for two class sessions. We all wondered what was up.

The third session he gave us a call. He was in the Poconos in the Good To Mother Nature Commune, an opt-out commune.

"Come on over for a tour some time," he invited us over the audio only channel, "These people have their act totally together."

We looked around at each other. This was sure crazy sounding.

"We're happy to hear you're OK, and having a good time." said Ben.

"It's more than a good time. It's enlightening and fulfilling. You really should come visit." he said. He sounded a bit distracted.

"We'll give it some thought here." Ben answered back diplomatically, "Let us have your number and we'll get back in touch."

"Well, you can't reach me directly, but here's the commune number..." He gave it to us as our eyes widened. No direct phone number? What sort of life was this?

The fourth week he was back, looking thinner and gaunt.

"You're back!" Jaina said as she bounced in the door.

Jaden nodded, but didn't say much more until everyone had come in. Even then he started slowly.

He opened with, "...It's been quite an experience."

"I can imagine." said Ben.

Jaden looked at him, "Not likely.

"I've been indoctrinated for four weeks now. I was hoping for a harmonious paradise on Earth. I was promised that! But it's been a hell instead.

"The people I talked to in The City said this place was a place where humans could be humans. That part sounded real good. I was tired of getting fucked around.

"The problem was: These people had only one definition of how to be human. 'There is a right way, a wrong way, and the Good To Mother Nature way.' I was told in an indoctrination session about a week after I arrived. At the time I didn't believe what I was hearing, but it turned out to be true... so true."

"What happened?" asked Jaina.

"Well, being a newbie, I was assigned the shit detail, literally. I got to move the 'night soil', they called it, from the bed chamber pots and outhouses to the compost piles."

"What's an outhouse?"

Jaden gulped a bit, "Look it up." Jaina did, "Oh!" and she gulped a bit, too.

"You were that back to Mother Nature, eh?" said Ben.

"Yeah. It was disgusting. And we didn't have to be doing that! We were living in an abandoned resort. They had actually pulled toilets out of the rooms. There were lots of empty rooms but we noobs were bunked six to a room in the old servants quarters.

"But I would have put up with it if I thought I would get some reward for doing so. ...Some spiritual reward, that is. I'm not after material reward!"

"Who is?" said Adrian rhetorically.

Jaden looked sharply at Adrian. At first he didn't like hearing that, but he thought a bit more, then went on, "What grated me more and more was this attitude that this was not about just being a non-creation-using place, it was about 'there is only one right way', and that way was decided by the commune leader: A guy named Mr. Harmony. Those people around him worshipped him! What he said, went, just because he said it. Those guys around him made sure of that. The rest of the people there just lived with that.

"A couple of days ago, I got fed up and started arguing about some of the choices. For instance, I found out that while we plebs had to live with out houses, Mr. Harmony and the top boys had kept their running water toilets. When I mentioned that, I was told in no uncertain terms to get with the program or get out. By then they had really pissed me off. I chose to get out... and here I am."

"Sounds like you brushed into a for-real closed cult," said Ben, "Those placed can get quite spooky. I'm glad you found that out quickly."

"...Yeah. I found out I didn't like that one... But I wonder if there's one around I can like? I... I... don't think I can go back to teaching. Those people fucked me over too badly, too."

"You're certainly at a difficult point in life. Have you tried some counseling?" asked Ben.

Jaden laughed, "I don't lack for advice! I get much more than I want all the time now. That's partly why I tried the commune."

"Good point." said Ben and he thought some more, "Well... if this was fifty years ago, I'd advise what you needed right now was a good woman." he laughed and we all joined him. "These days, I guess you'll have to get by with a good creation.

"Let me give this some more thought, Jaden, and see if we can get you on a more successful path. Promise me you'll take at least a week before you join another commune."

Jaden grinned, "I can do that. That won't be hard to keep."

With that, we began the class.


Jaden and Janet


Two weeks later Jaden and Janet had a happy announcement before class... somewhat happy, anyway.

Janet said, "Jaden and I were able to get an appeal launched to his conviction. We got his trial declared a mistrial and his status is now back to that of accused, not convicted. The ACLU is taking an interest in this so it's not likely to be a railroading the next time it goes to court."

I looked around and spoke for all of us when I said, "Thank you, Janet. And... Wow! What a lucky guy you are, Jaden, to have her for a friend!" we all applauded.

Janet held up her hand, "We don't have a happy ending, yet, folks. But we got a second try, and there should be a lot fewer cheap shots this time."

But she was just not counting chickens before they hatched. It was clearly real good news.

"What about LAU-TV channel? This would seem a perfect fit for that?" asked Ruby.

"I thought about that, Ruby, but decided against it. Yeah, we have a wronged man and a bureaucracy grinding him up and spitting him out. That would get ratings, for sure. But the bureaucracy grinding him up and spitting him out is a union. That aspect would strike terror in the hearts of most LAU-TV producers. It would add a lot of uncertainty which means delays. The people who would take the most interest in this as a polemic would be Libertarians. That market would be a pretty small sideshow."

"I see your point." said Ruby.


Andy's Borneo Trip



Headed back. Lunch Thursday next week?




Looking forward to it!



Andy was coming out. What a relief! Sure he had all the modern protections. Well, all you can get in a place that doesn't have avatars. Sheesh! How much can that be? I was so relieved and so looking forward to seeing him again.

He'd been blogging about his adventure, but as his adventure deepened his communications got sketchier and sketchier -- part was bandwidth issues and part was the nature of his adventure, talking too much was either violating company policy or dangerous.

We had lunch at Salucci's again, and boy! he seemed to be relishing it. As he came in he was constantly looking around and just plain enjoying.

"Good to be home, eh?"

"Oh my, is it!"

We ordered and he talked.

"We made the final leg of the journey on amphibians. We flew in to an eco observation refuge thirty kilometers away on a jungle cargo plane. That was quite a thrill in and of itself. This plane was STOL -- short take off and land -- and that dirt runway was really short! I looked at the prop after we landed and I didn't say anything, but I swear I saw fresh sap on it! Umm...

"We freshened up and organized at the refuge for a day, then hopped into quietized amphibians. Those were a sight! They were legged. They would swim through the swamps and muck, then walk over what was too solid to swim through.

"This place we were headed was not easy to get to. That's why it is still relatively pristine. But... boy! Not easy to get to is right! God! Miles and miles of muck! Complete with hot and cold running crocs and snakes and dragonflies so big you'd swear they could take off a finger if they had a mind to!

"We wanted to be low profile. The goal of this was to make friends and build trust. Not that these people haven't seen planes and helicopters by now. But this was at the heart of an area where the regional authorities are working on regrowing the biodiversity. That's why we were there, too, this group I'm working for wanted to check, once again, if there was anything genetically useful in this chunk of jungle.


"Oh yeah. I did some research. This idea that the jungle is chock-full of mysterious and wonderful cures gets strong enough for people to put money behind it every couple of decades. Some young hotshot at a drug company announces they are spending bucks to send out collectors. Some other companies get wind and their young hotshots "me too", then documentarians follow them around for a while, and get their rocks off when a collector gets the hot idea to consult a local shaman. One or two things are found, but not enough to warrant the expense and the idea gets quietly dropped. This time is no different, except expedition costs are cheaper and we have updated analytical tools to use, and genes are now a lot cheaper to work with than seeds used to be, so... maybe this time."

"Any luck?"

He grinned, "You get the decades-old answer, 'We won't know for a while.'"

"But we did go through all the steps: We made friends with the locals -- your T-Shirts were a fabulous hit, by the way, thanks again -- then did some preliminary searching, then shaman consulting with a documentarian watching, then some more searching. It went smoothly.

"And, my part went well enough that my contractors asked if I was interested in doing more work for them if this project continues. They are looking for a company-mayor liaison."


It sounded good, but Andy didn't look happy.

"What's up?" I asked.

"Well... like I said, this has been done before. This is one of the remotest places left on the planet... and we're doing a rerun." he sighed.

"If anything comes of our find, and the project gets a greenlight, they'll have avatar towers installed up there in six months, and the place will be effectively as far away as Long Beach is from Hollywood."

He looked at me, "I want to be doing something new. Not reboots of Jungle Jim episodes."

My heart went out to him. This is why I loved him so and why I broke up with him. He wanted to be on the edge, and not in some silly adrenaline-rush sense. He wanted to be on the edge in helping humanity. He wanted to be an Einstein or an Edison, but the creations were covering both of those niches pretty well these days.

"What will you do next?" I asked.

"I'm not sure. This job is done, no matter what the results of our searching.

"I suppose I could apply for that company-mayor liaison if they decide to invest there. If they do, some kind of town will spring up there, and someone will have to keep the peace. Could be interesting in a Wild West sort of way... if there's a greenlight... but that's still a rerun, and these days there's a whole lot of regulations to follow in developing indigenous places. With all that recipe following, it'll be more like being a chef than a sheriff." he sighed again.

We finished lunch without much more of interest said. But I was thinking.

And then I thought, "Oh my! Andy has a special place in my mind again! LoL!"

Maybe I should be checking if I have some pills leftover... and maybe not.